Boys and girls, men and women, grandparents and grandchildren, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters all look forward to the celebration of Christmas. Many countries celebrate festivals during the Christmas season and many countries have added traditions to the celebration of Christmas. Christmas is a time when halls are decked with bows of holly, trees are burdened with tinsel and flickering lights, store fronts are cluttered with manger and fairyland displays, and carols clash dissonantly with the incessant tinkling and clanging of bells. Christmas is a time when city clubs and social organization solicit one’s dimes and engage in all manner of philanthropic activities. Christmas is a time of “cheer” and “good will” by all men to all men. Christmas is a time of giving in order to receive. Christmas is a season of caroling and wassailing.
This is the Christian Christmas?
Is the Christ of the Scriptures in all your thoughts as you prepare to celebrate the birthday of the King? Is the suffering Savior of His people and judging Lord of all men remembered on the day selected in His honor?
The struggle of the militant church of all ages has been to maintain a healthy respect for the holy things – those which rightfully belong to that church. This is also true of the militant church today. How, then, do all the traditions and observances which distinguish the Christmas season from all others fit into proper observance of the birthday of the King? Can you and I worship the King when we are drawn away from the true worship by things which are not essential to this worship?
There are many aspects to this problem. In order that we may illustrate this problem, we have decided to limit our discussion of the Christian Christmas by investigating only one of the many symbols which have come to us through the ages. This symbol more than any other has taken a big place in the American celebration of Christmas.
I am told that the Christmas tree business is today a multimillion dollar business. Many conjectured opinions have attempted to solve the relationship between the birthday of Jesus and the decorations of the stately evergreen tree. Some have added to the collection conjectures on this score the legend that “Martin Luther was out walking one night, and the stars suggested to him lights, which he then placed upon a fir-tree to brighten the Christmas of his son.” (1) Some suggest that the Yule Log was the ancestor of the Christmas tree. Others assert that the Christmas tree is a symbol of the tree of life.
While all of these ideas have some merit we can say in general without fear of severe contradiction that this custom must have had its origin in the veneration of the fir tree by the pagan Norsemen and one tree worship of the ancient German tribes. Certain it is too that the common people contributed the tree to the celebration of Christmas. It did not come from the church institute. Even other celebrations in Europe centered in the ornamentation of special trees. The May-pole was a tree and garnished trees stood on Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension Day, St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) and New Years Day. The Christmas tree may belong to this family but if it does it is the only unaccountable survivor.
The established church frowned on the tree and its contributions to Christmas. In the 1740’s Reverend Johann Konrad Dannhaner of Strassburg said: “Among other trifles with which the people often occupy the Christmas time more than with God’s word, is also the Christmas or fir tree, which they erect in the house, and hang with dolls and sugar and thereupon shake and cause to lose its bloom. Where the habit comes from I do know not. It is a bit of child’s play . . . Far better were it for the children to be dedicated to the spiritual cedar tree, Jesus Christ.” (2) It is reported that Roman and Protestant clergy agreed with the sentiments expressed by pastor Dannhauer.
What must be one’s attitude toward the “helter-skelter” scurrying of the Christmas season is one’s automatic response? What must be the Christian attitude toward Christmas gifts and adorned Christmas trees? Do pagan customs and origins condemn all participation in the practice? Does a distinctive and antithetical life in this Christmas season imply a complete break with the customs of the Christmas season?
Can one say with a tree in his window, a wreath on his door, with candles on his mantle, and gifts under his tree:
“Let heaven be glad, let earth rejoice,
The teeming sea resound with praise,
Let waving fields lift high their voice,
And all the trees their anthem raise.
So let them shout before our God.
For, lo, He comes, He comes with might,
To wield the scepter and the rod,
To judge the world with truth and right.”
1. 4000 Years of Christmas, Earl W. Count, H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Co., 1948, P. 73
2. Ibid. p. 75